Oral history and the Second Golden Age of Radio?

A long while ago, my colleague Shanna Farrell told our group about one of her pet peeves, the overuse / misuse of the term “oral history” in the media. She is certainly right about the increased use of the term. A cursory search of the mass-media landscape includes some fun stories in Forbes on the week Wayne Gretzky hosted Saturday Night Live, in Billboard on the time Kanye West rushed the stage at the Video Music Awards, and in vulture.com (New York Magazine) on a scene in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, in which an actor narrowly avoids having a pencil pierce his eyeball.

Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards

As I was looking at these pieces, it occurred to me that what journalists mean by “oral history” is simply a more extensive use of quotations and a lighter touch with the narrative. But it’s still, of course, journalism. These are “thick descriptions” of a moment in time, not the life histories oral historians usually do.

We in the profession of oral history, however, are at a bit of a messaging disadvantage. After all, mainstream journalism, even in the age of social media, is the ultimate mainline to the public. In fact, journalists still for the most part shape and define what we call “the public.”But do all of these examples constitute a misuse of the term “oral history?” The piece on The Dark Knight, for example, is nothing more than a series of quotations from people interviewed for the article. How different are these from the secondary outputs developed within the field of oral history, such as the Oral History Center’s own podcasts?

There is a real appetite for what oral historians do, and it’s growing. Part of me welcomes this misuse of so-called oral history, as long as we have the opportunity to correct misconceptions about our nuts-and-bolts work, i.e., the co-creation of more in-depth life histories, and to highlight the core fact of our privileging the voice and authority of the narrator over our own.

With our hectic, multitasking lives, punctuated by the forced downtime of gridlocked traffic and monotonous subway rides, we’re living in a strange second Golden Age of Radio. Archival oral history projects have a great shot at reaching these audiences of bored commuters, pensive gardeners, and late-night snugglers if we can broaden our notion of how to package and curate the wonderful materials we’ve helped to make with our narrators.


OHC Director’s Column – September 2019

An oral history of the Zombie War!? 

No, UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center isn’t about to undertake an oral history project on humanity’s battles with zombies. But this was the subtitle to the 2006 novel by Max Brooks, World War Z, that was later made into a big-budget movie starring Brad Pitt as, what else, a former UN employee-turned-zombie eradicator. Having experienced both versions, I can say without qualification that the book was far superior to the movie, in part because the book attempted to take the oral history dimension a bit more seriously—while not skimping on fun or sensation. “Oral history” in this case was the novel’s conceit: first person accounts collected in the wake of the war (spoiler alert: the zombies lose), edited and spliced together in an attempt to create a narrative of the madness. But, really, is this “oral history”? 

WWZ cover

In recent years, “oral history” has moved from academic jargon to pop culture ubiquity. While there have been moments in the past when oral history-like projects have broken through (think Alex Haley’s Roots), only now are we seeing, for example, “An Oral History of the Time Wayne Gretzky Appeared on SNL,” an article which appeared last month in Forbes (of all places!). Surely my colleagues and I are thrilled that oral history appears to be having a moment. Less often do I get that crinkled look on someone’s face when I tell them, “I’m an oral historian.” They’re not as likely to ask, “Does that have something to do with… dentistry?” But. We are not entirely comfortable with what this increase of recognition means. People link “oral history” to any number of cultural products, maybe especially StoryCorps, which is regularly featured on NPR. Like World War Z, however, even StoryCorps is quite different from the way in which professional, university-based oral historians do our work.

Within the oral history community there is on-going conversation about just what elements comprise “best practices.” Yet, there is some baseline agreement as evidenced by the Best Practices document approved by the members of the Oral History Association in 2018. At the Oral History Center, our definition of “oral history” begins with a set of core practices and procedures. These practices set our work apart from anthropologists, most journalists, and, yes, fictional chroniclers of the zombie wars. 

Oral history at Berkeley begins with creating a project and determining its size and scope, which might result in fifty interviews or just one. We select the narrators, or interviewees, and ask them to sign a letter of informed consent. This letter details their rights and responsibilities, including the fact that they can withdraw from a project at any point prior to its completion. The interviews are conducted, typically in two-hour sessions, and are recorded on video, unless the narrator wants audio-only. All interviews are transcribed then lightly edited by our staff before being given to narrators for review and approval. We finalize the transcripts, deposit them in The Bancroft Library, and usually make them available to world-at-large through our website. So, for us, “oral history” is defined by three key elements: thorough research and planning; narrator consent at the beginning and approval at the conclusion of the project; and broad accessibility to the finished and approved transcript (and, increasingly, to the original recording as well). Once these bona-fide oral histories have been completed and offered up for use, hungry minds around the world are given the opportunity to create their own interpretive oral history projects on any number of subjects from the banal to the profound, from the tiny to the grandiose—but let’s all hope not on any zombie war past, present, or future. 

In this issue of our monthly newsletter, we ponder the question of “what is” and “what is not” oral history. As you’ll notice, we are not doctrinaire, but we do take this question very seriously and think that it is a useful starting point for any conversation about what it is that we do.

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center


Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project

This project is unique in that it focuses on women in one geographic region in order to get a clearer picture of the breadth of political work women have been doing on the ground and behind the scenes.

women marching for suffrage
Women marching for suffrage

Nineteen ninety-two has been dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” a phenomenon in which a wave of women candidates swept local and national races for public office. California led this charge by becoming the first state in American history to be represented by two women senators—Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. And since 2016—after a presidential election that provoked heated debate about gender discrimination and sexual harassment—many women stepped up to the challenge of engaging even more visibly in the American political system. Since then, organizations like Emily’s List and She Should Run reported record-breaking numbers of women who wanted to make their voices heard by running for public office.

And yet, 1992 was not the beginning of women’s political activism, but rather the culmination of decades of organization encouraging women to get involved and run for office. For generations, Bay Area women have built the foundations of political activism that span neighborhood organizations to support networks. And their stories inform our present.

In order to document these stories, I am developing the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project to record the history of these local women and their impact on and journeys through politics. The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley continues to preserve stories about California politicians, but this project is unique in that it focuses on women in one geographic region in order to get a clearer picture of the breadth of political work women have been doing on the ground and behind the scenes. Documenting political engagement outside of traditional political venues will capture more stories about women in politics and a more diverse array of stories.

For instance, the pilot interview for this oral history project is with Mary Hughes, a Bay Area political consultant. In her interview, Hughes explained that “in politics and in political consulting, you either win races or you don’t. If you don’t win, no one hires you. If you do win, everybody wants to hire you.” Hughes’s successful career in the Bay Area spans decades and highlights the prominence of women in national politics. And though she does not wish to run for office herself, Hughes sees her role as someone who can best serve her community by managing the election process for political candidates—especially other women. Hughes’s recollections are an example of the kinds of stories that will drive this oral history project.

Mary Hughes
Mary Hughes, political consultant and the first narrator of the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project

These long-form oral history interviews survey Bay Area political women’s backgrounds in and passion for political work through self-reflection. This format allows for comparisons between various avenues of political activism—like organizers and elected officials. It also reveals the importance of networks and mentors, and the impact they have had on women in the Bay Area political scene.

As engaged citizens, we need to know more about these women who helped create a space for themselves in Bay Area political life. Who are these women and what are their stories?  From neighborhood organizations to national campaigns, what is the range of political activism in which these women engage?  How has being a woman been a challenge or an asset to their political involvement? How have these women been working in the background of political life for generations?  How does living and working in California affect political opportunities? What kind of political power do these women wield locally and nationally?

As we approach the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage, conducting oral histories with women activists and politicians in California’s San Francisco Bay Area will help shape the national narrative about women’s historic, current, and future roles in American political life.  Further, gathering firsthand stories will help inspire and instruct a new generation of politically engaged women.

In addition to collecting primary source materials, The Oral History Center shares its collection with the general public through interpretive materials—like podcasts—and educational initiatives. Recording the contributions of these impressive Bay Area women—political fundraisers, organizers, and elected officials—through life history interviews is the first step in developing curriculum for workshops that cultivate young women’s political leadership. These workshops will use oral histories as a tool to foster civic engagement across the political spectrum, as well as to help develop confidence and skills of future women leaders. We also plan to create a podcast, a series of public forums, and a museum exhibit featuring these interviews.

We are currently raising funds for this project, and need your help to undertake the expansion of this ambitious oral history collection. You can support this project by giving to the Oral History Center. Please note under special instructions: “For the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project.” To learn more about this project, please contact Amanda Tewes at atewes@berkeley.edu or 510-666-3687.

 

Amanda Tewes is an interviewer with The Oral History Center and specializes in California history and political culture.

The Oral History Center is a research program of the University of California, Berkeley.  The OHC helps preserve contemporary history by conducting carefully researched video recorded and transcribed interviews. As part of UC Berkeley’s commitment to open access, archival copies of the audio/video and transcripts are placed in The Bancroft Library and are publicly accessible online.


The Science and Art of Oral History: My Internship Experience

Eleanor Naiman is a rising senior at Swarthmore College majoring in History. This past summer, Eleanor worked with historian Amanda Tewes of the Oral History Center on the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project. As an intern, Eleanor researched the contributions of women to Bay Area politics and assisted Tewes with her interviews. Here, Eleanor reflects on her internship experience in the Oral History Center.

Elenaor Naiman

Eleanor Naiman, 2019

There is a science to professional oral history. From start to finish, the interview process requires meticulous attention to detail and respect for technique, form, and skill. When an OHC historian sets off to conduct an interview, be it a conversation with a Bay Area political consultant or with a Connecticut anthropologist, she does so equipped with heavy black bags of tools and folders and parts that, to the untrained (read: intern) eye, might seem better suited for the high-tech activities of a secret agent than the practice of oral history. And yet, each cord, mic, form, and gadget plays an integral role in the interview process.

Over the course of my summer as an intern at the OHC, I’ve become better versed in this highly technical science of capturing a story. I’ve learned how to identify a potential narrator and with which forms to ask for her consent. I’ve spent long hours researching the entirety of her life, creating an outline of its twists and turns and of the people with whom it has come into contact. I’ve become a convert to the practice of the “pre-interview,” a conversation that allows the interviewer to check her facts and flesh out her timeline.

Even the intimidating black tool bags have become familiar. I’ve learned to unfold a tripod to just the right height. To angle a camera towards my narrator’s left cheek, framing her head from hair to collarbone and obscuring her lapel microphone. I know how to initialize an SD card; how to stop recording, then press power; and how to make the light in the room warmer or cooler based on the narrator’s proximity to a window. My technical skills are far from perfect, and it often takes me about five times longer to set up equipment than it should, but my fumbles and mistakes only reinforce my newfound appreciation for the complex science of oral history.

And yet, if oral history is a science, it is also an art.

I have learned that oral history, at its root, relies not on the positioning of the camera or the placement of the mic but on the strength of the trust carefully built by both historian and narrator during weeks of exchanges and phone calls preceding the interview itself. This trust is not quantifiable; a relationship, it turns out, is harder to assemble than a camera tripod.

I have learned how to speak my narrator’s language, repeating the terminology she’s used to reinforce her sense of ownership of her life stories. I know to follow the flow of her memories, asking open-ended questions that evoke the feelings she experienced in a time or place. I try to understand how my own biases inform my questions, and to consider how intersubjectivity influences the relationship my narrator and I can build. I have learned to listen more deeply than I ever have. Perhaps most importantly, I know to allow my narrator to guide our conversation as an equal partner in this history we’re creating together.

This summer I have become a techie and a philosopher, a stickler for spreadsheets and a careful listener, a more confident camerawoman and a historian never so acutely aware of all that she does not know. In short, I have become a scientist and an artist: an oral historian.


My First Brush with Oral History

I first encountered oral history in my master’s program in history at California State University, Fullerton. I chose the program because it had strong public history training, but in my research about the school I discovered the pedagogy included something called “oral history.” I scratched my head at that, but added that information to a laundry list of graduate school problems labeled: “I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there.” After all, I wanted training to be a museum curator – and nothing else.

Things didn’t go according to plan.

Nearby History
Nearby History is one of the books that introduced me to public history. It defines public history as community history, and includes a chapter on “oral documents.”

My introduction to oral history was immediate. In my first public history course, a fateful assignment meant I needed to lead a small group discussion about oral history as historical evidence and as practice. My sense of oral history at the time was pretty limited to oral tradition: elders informally sharing knowledge about the past. My group consisted of undergraduates and graduate students who also had little to no experience with oral history, so we set out to discuss: what is oral history and what is its value to public historians?

We debated the reliability of oral history, given its dependence on memory and subjective experiences. We talked about how differing approaches to transcription shade researchers’ experience with oral history source material. We also questioned whether oral history had a place in public history writ large, or if it should be a separate discipline. And yet, we all agreed that it was important to record people’s life experiences, that their stories are inherently valuable.

Rememberign Ahanagran
Remembering Ahanagran is historian Richard White’s ode to his mother, an Irish immigrant who never quite appreciated the historical subjects about which he chose to write. It’s a great example of the ways historians can interweave personal stories with other evidence to create a fuller and more complicated picture of the past.

I began the assignment deeply skeptical of oral history, but at some point during this discussion I found myself defending the practice because of the value of these alternate stories. In part, public history springs from an activist tradition hoping to recover pasts not about white male leaders, but of the everyday and everyman. With that framework in mind, I ended up posing the question: is oral history the most egalitarian practice in public history?

My argument was that much of the time museum exhibits are the result of so-called experts communicating history to the public; it’s an expensive and laborious process that doesn’t always involve the people who witnessed the history presented in the exhibit. But oral history, it’s different. At its core, oral history involves two people sitting down to chat using potentially inexpensive equipment to record their conversation. This process takes place outside the Ivory Tower and requires talking – and really listening – to people in your community, people whose lives and expertise have often been under acknowledged or completely overlooked. In theory, oral history can invert the power structure of just who is the expert. Unlike the rest of the historical profession, oral historians don’t just study the past, they help shape documents about the past by interacting with the people who lived it.

It was during this initial assignment about oral history that I began to question where oral history fits with other historical evidence. I eventually concluded that oral history is different from other text-based sources because it comes with a set of complications about collecting the information. And yet, oral history is also different because sharing human experiences through oral tradition is a powerful tool in making sweeping historical narratives personal and relatable – this connection to the past is difficult to achieve through census records.

Presence of the Past
Presence of the Past is a foundational text for public historians, and emphasizes that most Americans trust personal narratives (oral tradition, oral history) rather than history textbooks.

It was through these discussions and further exposure to the value of first-person interviews that I finally resolved my questions about how oral history relates to public history. And oral history has become an important mainstay in my toolkit in my career as a public historian.

 


New Release Oral History: Jesse Choper on the Constitution, Legal Education, and Horse Races

The Oral History Center is pleased to release our life history interview with Jesse Choper. Jesse Choper is the Earl Warren Professor of Public Law (Emeritus) at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, where he also served as dean from 1982 to 1992.

Jesse Choper, Berkeley Law deanChoper was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1935 to immigrant parents from Lithuania. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and alongside his studies served on the law review and lectured at the Wharton School. Following his graduation in 1960, he served as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. He has authored numerous influential books and articles on constitutional law, including the role of the Supreme Court, the religion clauses of the Constitution, the eleventh amendment, as well as casebooks on constitutional and corporate law. This autobiographical oral history covers the full sweep of his life and work as a legal scholar, educator, and administrator. In this interview, Dean Choper talks about his upbringing and evolving relationship to Judaism; his education and teaching experience and philosophy; his clerkship for Chief Justice Warren; the numerous complex issues he faced as faculty and dean of the law school; the issues behind his books and articles on constitutional law, including freedom of religion, the establishment clause, contraception and abortion, individual rights, federalism, and separation of powers; reflections on changes over the past several decades to the Supreme Court, tenure, and approaches to constitutional law; and his role on the California Horse Racing Board.

The Oral History Center has interviewed Dean Choper on two previous occasions, once for the Law Clerks of Chief Justice Earl Warren project and then again for the Athletics at UC Berkeley project.


OHC Director’s Column – July/August 2019

“How can one best teach oral history?” This is the question that OHC staff asks every year in anticipation of our annual Advance Oral History Institute, held the week of August 5th this year. Oral history is many things — a research methodology, a mode of inquiry, a field of study, a way of engaging with people — so how does one approach communicating a viable path toward the completion of successful interviews?

A few generations of practitioners, theorists, and teachers have approached this challenge in any number of ways. Some recommend book study to first learn the issues and questions —  the overall discourse of oral history — as the best way to achieve sure-footing; others insist that competence in oral history, being primarily about human exchange, is most easily achieved through practice, learning as you go; and some contend that oral history is nothing more than historical research, so pursue it as one would archival study. The correct answer is probably all of the above, or some dynamic mixture thereof. 

Summer Institute OHCIn 2014, after hosting probably ten Institutes, new and veteran OHC staff gathered, led by then-new Institute Director Shanna Farrell, to refashion the program and attempt to come up with an optimal way to ‘teach’ oral history over the 5-day program. Farrell came up with the notion of matching the flow of the week to the life-cycle of the interview: Monday focuses on oral history foundations — concepts, theories, and ethics; Tuesday details approaches to project planning and conceptualization; Wednesday naturally examines the complexities of the interview itself; Thursday we delve into strategies for analysis and interpretation of those interviews; and Friday we bring it together by considering various oral history outputs, such as transcripts, podcasts, and books. Along the way, participants engage with the theoretical and methodological literature of oral history; they have the opportunity to witness a ‘live interview’ and then practice interviews of their own; and in small workshop groups they are invited to consider how oral history research might augment and, potentially, transform their own research projects. 

Over the past year or so, in our newsletter we have featured profiles of several Institute ‘graduates’ — individuals who have achieved great things through their own hard work, work that we like to think the Institute has informed and maybe even improved. The plan for this year is to live-tweet parts of the Institute, so please follow us on twitter if you don’t already. And while our 2019 Institute is sold-out, it is not too early to plan for 2020 (dates coming soon!). 

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director


Let There Be Light podcast explores identity at UC Berkeley — through housing, microchips, and the Berkeley food scene

Announcing Season 4 of the Berkeley Remix podcast!

This season of the Berkeley Remix we’re bringing to life stories about our home — UC Berkeley — from our collection of thousands of oral histories. Please join us for our fourth season, Let There Be Light: 150 Years at UC Berkeley, inspired by the University’s motto, Fiat Lux. Our episodes this season explore issues of identity — where we’ve been, who we are now, the powerful impact Berkeley’s identity as a public institution has had on student and academic life, and the intertwined history of campus and community.

The three-episode season explores how housing has been on the front lines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history; how UC Berkeley created a culture of innovation that made game-changing technologies possible; and how political activism on campus was a motivator for the farm-to-table food scene in the city of Berkeley. All episodes include audio from interviews from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.

Episode 1. Sleeping with the Light On: Housing and Community at Berkeley

Written and produced by historian Amanda Tewes, UC Berkeley Oral History Center

“From early housing cooperatives during the Great Depression, to fights for racial and gender parity on campus, housing has been on the front lines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history.”

International House
I-House opened in 1930 and was built to foster intercultural connections.

We’ve come to think of communal living as a tradition for students, a rite of passage and a valuable lesson in community building. But for much of its history, UC Berkeley didn’t even have residence halls! In this episode, we explore what home and community has meant to students at Cal, and how accessible spaces have supported social justice movements on and beyond campus.

This episode includes audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including Rev. Allen C. Blaisdell, Jackie Goldberg, Frank Inami, Marguerite Kulp Johnston, Edward V. Roberts, and Dorothy Walker. Voiceover of Ruth Norton Donnelly’s interview by Shanna Farrell. Audio from the “Which Campus?” video courtesy of The Bancroft Library. (Written version of Sleeping with the Light On.)

Episode 2. Berkeley Lightning: A Public University’s Role in the Rise of Silicon Valley

Written and produced by historian Paul Burnett, UC Berkeley Oral History Center

“We’re used to hearing about how game-changing technology makes whole new ways of living and working possible. But what makes the game-changing technologies possible? UC Berkeley — a public, state university — established institutions and teams that would make the culture of innovation possible.”

Integrated Circuit
Integrated circuits from Hewlett Packard 34C calculator, designed with assistance from UC Berkeley Professor William M. Kahan

“Berkeley Lightning” is about the contributions of UC Berkeley Engineering to the rise of the semiconductor industry in what became known as Silicon Valley in the 1960s and 70s. In contrast to the influential entrepreneurial spirit of a private university like Stanford, Berkeley’s status as a public institution had a different impact on Silicon Valley. We focus on the development of the first widely used design program for prototyping microchips. Originally designed by and for students, the software spread like lightning in part because Berkeley, as a public institution, made it available free of charge. The world has not been the same since.

This episode includes audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including Paul R. Gray, Professor of Engineering Emeritus, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Dr. Laurence Nagel, CEO Omega Enterprises, PhD from UC Berkeley EECS, and former senior manager at Bell Laboratories (oral history forthcoming). (Written version of Berkeley Lightning.)

Episode 3. Berkeley After Dark

Written and produced by interviewer Shanna Farrell, UC Berkeley Oral History Center

“What Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse team did was probably the most radical gesture in restaurants and cooking in America in the last century. It’s important that it happened in Berkeley.” — Chef Christopher Lee

Chez Panisse
Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley

Berkeley After Dark is about the connection between the history of farm-to-table eating and the campus community. UC Berkeley alum Alice Waters helped pioneer the concept of eating local, seasonal, and organic food at her restaurant, Chez Panisse, located just a few blocks from campus on Shattuck Avenue. This grew out of her combined love of feeding people and political activism, and evolved into a culinary revolution. And it couldn’t have happened without UC Berkeley. The intertwined history between campus and the community gave Chez Panisse an audience, and a workforce, creating a symbiotic relationship.

This episode includes audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including Christopher Lee, Narsai David, and Dylan O’Brien. Voiceover of Marion Cunningham’s interview by Amanda Tewes and Paul Bertolli’s interview by John Fragola. Supplemental interviews with Chris Ying. (Written version of Berkeley After Dark.)

 

Over the decades, the Oral History Center has conducted 4,000 interviews on almost every topic imaginable. As part of UC Berkeley’s commitment to open access, the transcripts are available to researchers and the public at no cost, and almost all of the transcripts are available online. Search our vast collection.


“Sleeping with the Light On: Housing and Community at Berkeley” – The Berkeley Remix Podcast Season 4, Episode 1

“From early housing cooperatives during the Great Depression, to fights for racial and gender parity on campus, housing has been on the frontlines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history.”

Bowles Hall

Bowles Hall opened in 1929 and housed about 200 students — all of them men.

This season of The Berkeley Remix we’re bringing to life stories about our home — UC Berkeley — from our collection of thousands of oral histories. Please join us for our fourth season, Let There Be Light: 150 Years at UC Berkeley, inspired by the University’s motto, Fiat Lux. Our episodes this season explore issues of identity — where we’ve been, who we are now, the powerful impact Berkeley’s identity as a public institution has had on student and academic life, and the intertwined history of campus and community.

The three-episode season explores how housing has been on the front lines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history; how UC Berkeley created a culture of innovation that made game-changing technologies possible; and how political activism on campus was a motivator for the farm-to-table food scene in the city of Berkeley. All episodes include audio from interviews from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.

“…realtors and others who owned apartment houses took the attitude that International House was to relieve them of the problem of racial housing. And I said, ‘On the contrary, International House was established to set the pattern for everyone to follow.’ ” — Rev. Allen C. Blaisdell

International House

International House opened in Berkeley in 1930. It became not only a place where international students could live, but it was also co-oed — this defied social norms of the time.

Episode 1:

“Sleeping with the Light On: Housing and Community at Berkeley”

Written and produced by interviewer Amanda Tewes, UC Berkeley Oral History Center

We’ve come to think of communal living as a tradition for students, a rite of passage and a valuable lesson in community building. But for much of its history, UC Berkeley didn’t even have residence halls! Expanding and improving housing at Berkeley has been on the frontlines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history. In this episode, we explore what home and community has meant to students at Cal, and how accessible spaces have supported social justice movements on and beyond campus.

In researching student life on UC Berkeley’s campus through our rich collection of oral histories, story after story about historical housing hardships jumped out at me. Everything from the price of room and board to discrimination impacted how Cal students interacted with the campus, and whether or not they were able stay and study at the University. However, these oral histories also revealed that students and administrators used housing to support social justice on their campus and in their community. To me, this resistance and resilience is the quintessential Berkeley story.

This episode includes audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including: Rev. Allen C. Blaisdell, Jackie Goldberg, Frank Inami, Marguerite Kulp Johnston, Edward V. Roberts, and Dorothy Walker.  Voiceover of Ruth Norton Donnelly’s interview by Shanna Farrell.  Audio from the “Which Campus?” video courtesy of The Bancroft Library. To learn more about these interviews or see all of the Oral History Center’s The Berkeley Remix podcasts, visit the Oral History Center.

 

 

Following is a written version of The Berkeley Remix Podcast Season 4, Episode 1: “Sleeping with the Light On: Housing and Community at Berkeley.”

Audio:    (music)

Meeker:    Hello and welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. I’m Martin Meeker, director of the Center. Founded in 1954, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This season, we’re bringing to life stories about our home — UC Berkeley — from our collection of thousands of oral histories. Please join us for our fourth season, inspired by the University’s motto, Let There Be Light: 150 Years at UC Berkeley. This is episode one, “Sleeping with the Light On: Housing and Community at Berkeley,” produced by Oral History Center’s Amanda Tewes.

Video:    (music)  Berkeley, oldest and largest of the University campuses…You can live in a variety of student residence facilities on this campus, but it’s more likely you’ll live off campus or travel back and forth each day. But many worlds are here within the complex world of a big, bustling campus.

Audio:    (noises from moving day)

Narration:     Like college campuses across America, moving day at UC Berkeley marks a pivotal moment in the lives of new Cal students. It’s the beginning of their college careers.

Audio:    (noises from moving day) “Think how much you’re going to miss me.”

Narration:    Parents say tearful goodbyes, students anxiously meet roommates. And moving into on-campus dorms symbolizes becoming part of the campus community, becoming a Golden Bear.

We’ve come to think of communal living as a tradition for students, a rite of passage and a valuable lesson in community building for young adults. Ruth Norton Donnelly, a student in the early 1920s, recalls her time at Cal.

Voiceover/Donnelly:    …I think we learned more in living with each other than we could have learned in any other way…I learned to sleep with the light on, with the radio going, and with a card game going on in the room…I don’t know a better way to find out these things than to live with a group of people who care about you.

Narration:    That’s actually Shanna Farrell reading from a transcript of an interview with Donnelly in 1966. The scene she describes is a familiar one. But it hasn’t always been the norm at Berkeley. For much of its history, the University didn’t even have dorms! It took Berkeley years to address campus housing, and this issue became an important platform for student activists.

Audio:    (music)

Narration:    From early housing cooperatives during the Great Depression, to fights for racial and gender parity on campus, housing has been on the frontlines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history.

Audio:    (music)

Narration:     Despite a few experiments with campus housing, it wasn’t until 1929 that the school opened its first dormitory — Bowles Hall — which boarded about 200 students, all of them men. About a decade later, in 1942, Berkeley opened its first dormitory for women: Stern Hall, which accommodated just over 130 students. Both of these projects were funded through private donations — not the University budget.

But two dorms couldn’t house the entire student body, which was over thirty thousand. So students rented rooms at boarding houses, pledged into the Greek system, and joined co-ops.

Audio:        (music)

Narration:    During the Depression, a weak economy meant Cal students had to compete with locals for affordable housing. Many of them turned to co-operatives like the University Student Co-operative Association — or USCA. These were communally-owned units that the students ran themselves. Berkeley alum Marguerite Kulp Johnston lived in the co-op at Stebbins Hall.

Johnston:     When I came to Berkeley in ’39, I had applied over a year before to the USCA, the co-op houses, because that was the only low-cost housing around. Everything was very expensive compared with it. Let’s see, they had about 600 students, I think, then in the co-op. There was one girls’ house of about a hundred, and about four or five men’s houses altogether. That was $24.50 a month, [for] three meals a day, seven days a week. I think then Bowles was running $60 a month, something like that, so it was less than half.

Narration:     This made Johnston one of the lucky ones. She says housing conditions at the time were miserable. And students were largely on their own.

Johnston:     When we were in school, the University’s stated position was: “We’re not concerned with where students live. We provide the education, and students provide their own housing.” This was a general policy.

Narration:    Johnston was a member of the Student Welfare Council and the Associated Students’ Executive Committee. She pushed back against this policy.

Johnston:    All of us who were interested in student welfare and student housing were screaming about this, saying, “Here you’ve got all these students living in hovels and living in basements. And people charging exorbitant rents for nothing but a pallet and a toilet down the hall that doesn’t flush,” and so forth, and promoted dormitories where kids could live healthfully.

Narration:     But while administrators debated whether to build more university-controlled dorms, the problems with housing intensified. This was especially true for international students and students of color. Without guaranteed university housing, these students faced discrimination in their off-campus searches.

One solution to this discrimination was the expansion of the International House model that began in New York. The idea was to create a multicultural residence that would house international students and scholars, fostering intercultural connections. But when I-House opened in 1930 on Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley, it faced pushback from the local community. Rev. Allen C. Blaisdell was the first director of I-House. He recalls:

Blaisdell:     …realtors and others who owned apartment houses took the attitude that International House was to relieve them of the problem of racial housing. I protested, in one case, to a realtor in regard to prejudicial matters and refusal to rent to national minorities and nationality groups. And his reply to me was, “Well, International House was built so that we would not have to be faced with this matter.” And I said, “On the contrary, International House was established to set the pattern for everyone to follow.”

Narration:     Blaisdell wanted to show what inclusive housing could look like. I-House wasn’t just available to students of color; it was also co-ed. This policy defied social norms of the time and put I-House directly in conflict with the University.

Blaisdell:     Well, the rules of the University were that any recognized housing unit at the University could not house men and women, so that International House was never on the approved housing list of the University in those days. The Dean of Women’s office co-operated in many ways, but they were basically opposed to this principle.

Narration:     The Dean of Women’s Office opposed coed housing because Berkeley, like other college campuses, was responsible for protecting the “virtue” of women undergrads.  So, to get around University regulations, I-House became what Blaisdell describes as “almost completely graduate student in nature.”

Blaisdell:     But it was a problem at the beginning, largely because no man or woman could live in an approved boarding house, or rooming house, or residence hall, where men and women live under the same roof.

Narration:     Stern Hall, that women-only residence the University built in 1942, was still the only dormitory for them to live on campus. Rosalie Meyer Stern funded the building, and insisted on its decorations: a bright Diego Rivera mural and giant panda rugs. But the decor couldn’t completely erase the austere environment that Stern Hall provided. Dorothy Walker, a former Stern resident, attributes this to the strict and paternalistic rules imposed on women students.

Walker:     It was also a very stifling environment. First of all, of course, there were the Dean’s rules at the time, which were very in loco parentis.

Narration:    Walker was a student in the 1940s, when the University took that phrase — in loco parentis — very seriously. School administrators saw their role as surrogate parents for students, especially women. And in Walker’s case, that meant a strict parent.

Walker:    Women basically could not leave their dorms in the night, in the evening unless they were going to the library, and you had to be home by 10:15 if you were going to the library. You could sign out for an evening event, but basically if you were not home by midnight basically, you were locked out and you were in serious trouble. And there was a whole system of punishments and a board you would meet with if you ever violated the rules, so it was very strict.

Narration:     The comparison to parental figures was so strong that students even referred to their chaperones as “dorm mothers” and “house mothers.” While some, like Walker, chafed under these watchful eyes, others embraced the bonds.

Donnelly/Voiceover:    The sorority was like a family; you don’t go every place with your family when you are growing up, and yet there was always a family to come home to.

Narration:     That’s Shanna Farrell reading from Ruth Norton Donnelly’s interview again. Donnelly lived in Sigma Kappa in the early 1920s, and described it as an integral part of her Berkeley experience. Before Berkeley built more dorms, many students like Donnelly looked to sororities and fraternities for places to live on campus.

But not everyone felt as welcome in the campus Greek system.  Frank Inami, whose parents were Japanese, arrived in Berkeley on the eve of World War II:

Inami:    …when I started at UC Berkeley in 1939, I stayed at the Japanese Students Club, because the fraternities and the sororities would not allow us in…

Narration:    Many fraternities and sororities at Berkeley didn’t admit Jews or students of color. So some students, like Inami, created their own communities.

Inami:    There was a Japanese Students Club, a special dormitory just for us…we used to call ourselves Jappa Sappa Chi…JSC. Japanese Students Club…We wanted to make it sound like one of the fraternities…There were about twenty-five of us, I guess, Japanese Americans. And like the fraternities, it was by invitation only.

Audio:    (music)

Narration:    By 1942, two-and-a-half years after Frank Inami started school at Berkeley, he and other Japanese American students were removed to internment sites away from the West Coast. Inami was eventually released, but he never returned to Cal.

Audio:    (music)

Narration:    It took a concerted effort by students and the administration to push for desegregation of the Greek system at Berkeley. Jackie Goldberg was a Cal student and activist in the 1960s. She applied to live in two places: a co-op and a dorm. She didn’t get into either. So Goldberg joined Delta Phi Epsilon, one of the few campus sororities at the time that accepted Jewish women.

Goldberg:     I was the Panhellenic representative.

Rubens:    Yes.

Narration:    This means she sat on a council that made decisions for all campus Greek organizations. Along with the Dean of Women, Katherine Towle, Goldberg came up with a plan to make the sorority pledging process more inclusive.

Goldberg:    …we cooked this up in her office, getting all of the sororities to sign the non-discrimination pledge…

Narration:    At first, her fellow Greek members weren’t on board with the idea.

Goldberg:    …they weren’t going to. And they weren’t going to basically because their national..

Rubens:    National.

Goldberg:    …controlled this decision.

Narration:    By the way, that’s interviewer Lisa Rubens you hear in the background.

Goldberg:    And she and I said, “Well, these young women like to think of themselves as liberals, as not racists. Why don’t we let them see the face of racism?”

Narration:    So Goldberg and Dean Towle invited the national leaders of the sororities to a forum at the campus Panhellenic Council.

Goldberg:    We had them all come, and these Southern white women just horrified these young girls by talking about [imitating a Southern accent] their rights to pick their friends and their rights to pick whom they associate with.

Narration:     Goldberg hoped that her fellow Berkeley students, when confronted with the beliefs of those dictating membership policies, would break from the national practices.

Goldberg:    And every one of the sororities signed after those women left. They just didn’t want to have anything to do with that.

Rubens:    So they did all sign?

Goldeberg:    They all signed.

Rubens:    Oh, no kidding?

Goldberg:    Yeah.

Audio:     (music)

Narration:    By the early 1960s, a postwar boom had expanded the UC system, forcing the University to finally build more extensive housing options. Of course, the fight for inclusion wasn’t over. For students with disabilities, there were still barriers to campus housing — even with the new dorms. Where could a student in a wheelchair live? Or a student with a visual impairment? These were the questions Edward V. Roberts asked when he arrived on Berkeley’s campus in 1962. He was the University’s first student with severe disabilities.

Roberts:    But it wasn’t going to be easy, oh my God. The biggest obstacle became real soon, [labored breathing] where would I live? And I think we almost gave up because of that.

Narration:    Roberts contracted polio as a child, and the illness left him with quadriplegia. He needed housing that could hold the iron lung which helped stabilize his breathing. He also needed attendants around-the-clock. In an era before the Americans with Disabilities Act, these accommodations made his housing search more difficult.

Roberts:    It seemed like wherever we went, it was like, those places are too freaked out to deal with me.

Narration:    Finally, Roberts met Dr. Henry Bruyn. Dr. Bruyn was the medical director of the Student Health Service at Berkeley. He suggested that Roberts live at Cowell Memorial Hospital, an ivy-covered student infirmary on the east side of campus.

Roberts:    He said, “Why don’t we open the hospital? And you could live here.” And I started saying, “But I could live there like a dorm, right?” I said, “I know about hospitals; I don’t want to live in a hospital.” And he said, “We can work those things out.”

Narration:    Roberts was worried about living at Cowell, because until then, the hospital only temporarily housed students recovering from surgery or who had illnesses like measles. He was looking for a community of his own.

Roberts was the first student to live at Cowell full time, but he was not the last. Over the next decade, many others came to call the hospital home as part of the Cowell Residence Program. Their quest for housing informed the Disabled Rights and Independent Living Movement on campus, which began in the late 1960s.

Then, in 1972, UC Berkeley students with disabilities pushed for even greater inclusivity by advocating for off-campus housing. This became the Center for Independent Living.

Audio:     (music and noises from moving day)

Narration:    It took nearly one hundred years for Berkeley to build the large-scale student housing we now associate with undergraduate move-in day.

Although a 2016 survey from Berkeley’s Office of Planning and Analysis reported that the number of Cal freshmen who experienced “inconsistent access to housing” is at 8 percent, challenges remain. And the fact that the Bay Area has the most expensive rental market in the country, directly impacts Cal students.

But, housing has improved at Berkeley. Blackwell Hall, Berkeley’s newest dorm, opened just in time for the 2018 school year. And in a recent message, Chancellor Carol Christ reinforced her commitment to expanding student housing.

The ongoing challenge of student housing highlights the long struggle to create community at Berkeley. But the history of student housing at UC Berkeley also demonstrates the key roles Cal students and administrators played in pushing for social justice on their campus and in their community.

Audio:        (noises from moving day)

Narration:    Which brings us back to moving day here at UC Berkeley, where a new class of freshmen are building their own campus community, and defining the issues that will shape their experiences, and the mark they leave on Cal.

Audio:    (noises from moving day fade out) (music)

Meeker:    This podcast was written and narrated by Amanda Tewes, with assistance from Shanna Farrell, Francesca Fenzi, and Oral History Center staff. Editing by Francesca Fenzi, and special assistance by Allie Cheroutes. Digitization by David Dunham and student employees. The Berkeley Remix theme music by Paul Burnett, and additional music by Blue Dot Sessions. Special thanks to The Bancroft Library. All interviews in this episode are from the Oral History Center collections. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. I’m Martin Meeker. Thank you for listening to The Berkeley Remix, and please join us next time!


The Berkeley Remix Podcast, Season 4, Episode 2, “Berkeley Lightning: A Public University’s Role in the Rise of Silicon Valley”

“We’re used to hearing about how game-changing technology makes whole new ways of living and working possible. But what makes the game-changing technologies possible? We’re going to talk about Berkeley’s contribution in this domain, a bit upstream from the technology we all know.”

This season of the Berkeley Remix we’re bringing to life stories about our home — UC Berkeley — from our collection of thousands of oral histories. Please join us for our fourth season, Let There Be Light: 150 Years at UC Berkeley, inspired by the University’s motto, Fiat Lux. Our episodes this season explore issues of identity — where we’ve been, who we are now, the powerful impact Berkeley’s identity as a public institution has had on student and academic life, and the intertwined history of campus and community.

The three-episode season explores how housing has been on the front lines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history; how UC Berkeley created a culture of innovation that made game-changing technologies possible; and how political activism on campus was a motivator for the farm-to-table food scene in the city of Berkeley. All episodes include audio from interviews from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.

IC chip from Hewlett Packard 34C Calculator, designed with assistance by UC Berkeley computer scientist William M. Kahan
IC chip from Hewlett Packard 34C Calculator, 1979-83. Some of the calculator’s revolutionary features were designed by UC Berkeley computer scientist William M. Kahan

Episode 2, “Berkeley Lightning: A Public University’s Role in the Rise of Silicon Valley,” is about the contributions of UC Berkeley Engineering to the rise of the semiconductor industry in what became known as Silicon Valley in the 1960s and 70s. In contrast to the influential entrepreneurial spirit of a private university like Stanford, Berkeley’s status as a public institution had a different impact on Silicon Valley. We focus on the development of the first widely used design program for prototyping microchips. Originally designed by and for students, the software spread like lightning in part because Berkeley, as a public institution, made it available free of charge. The world has not been the same since.

This episode uses audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including interviews with  Paul R. Gray, Professor of Engineering Emeritus, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Dr. Laurence Nagel, CEO of Omega Enterprises, former senior manager at Bell Laboratories, with a PhD from UC Berkeley EECS (oral history forthcoming).

“Berkeley Lightning” was produced, written, narrated, and edited by Oral History Center historian Paul Burnett.

 

The following is a written version of the The Berkeley Remix Podcast Season 4, Episode 2, “Berkeley Lightning: A Public University’s Role in the Rise of Silicon Valley. ”

 

Narration:  Silicon Valley. It’s a real place, the valley roughly encompassed by Santa Clara County at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. But it’s also a mythic place, with just the right combination of top universities, electronics firms, defense dollars, and a concentration of rare, plucky college-dropout geniuses who would go on to hatch world-changing technologies in suburban garages.

We want to take that apart a bit. The university that looms largest in nearly every story of the rise of Silicon Valley is near the heart of that actual valley, Stanford University. But about 30 miles north, on the eastern edge of the Bay, lies the University of California, Berkeley, a longstanding rival to Stanford, if football is your game.

Our story here focuses on this other university, a public, state university, that established institutions and teams to develop innovations that would make the culture of innovation possible. There are many different stories we could tell about Berkeley’s role in the rise of Silicon Valley, from specific technologies such as flash memory to digital-to-analog conversion, aka the hardware and software that make it possible for you to listen to me right now.

We’re used to hearing about how game-changing technology makes whole new ways of living and working possible. But what makes the game-changing technologies possible? We’re going to talk about Berkeley’s contribution in this domain, a bit upstream from the technology we all know.

The centerpiece of just about any discussion of Silicon Valley is the development of its namesake, the silicon microchip, a tiny wafer packed with an ever-growing number of all the components that make up an electronic circuit in this microscopic space, what comes to be called an integrated circuit. Chief among these components is the transistor. Transistors do many things, but among them is to act as a switch, which allows them to process digital information, zeros or ones, much more efficiently and cheaply than tube-based mainframe computers, the ones that used to fill up entire basements of office buildings. When the transistor was invented, the race was on to increase the density and number of transistors. There are a few reasons why you want to make these integrated circuits smaller and denser. For one thing, they work better and more efficiently. And, you can cram them into small spaces, such as at the tip of a missile, for example.

But imagine how tricky they are to make. Here is Berkeley engineering professor Paul Gray explaining the dimensions of the microchip.

Gray:   It was probably maybe fifty mils by a hundred mils. A mil is a thousandth of an inch. So that would be a tenth of an inch in one dimension and one-twentieth of an inch in the other dimension.

Narration: And here is Larry Nagel, who was a student at Berkeley’s microelectronics lab in the 1960s, on making chip prototypes.

Nagel: And being a little bit clumsy we had to make up for a couple of times when things got dropped and things got otherwise messed up. So I guess I was probably working maybe probably four weeks at that before I had a chip that actually worked.

Narration: Now this was not normal, routine work for an electrical engineering student in the 1960s. Just a handful of universities that had links the electronics industry and to military research had founded specialized microelectronics labs by the early 1960s.  Here’s Dr. Gray again:

Gray: Berkeley had started the country’s first laboratory in which you could fabricate an integrated circuit. And that was in the about ’63, ’64 timeframe…Don Pederson was the faculty member here who really spearheaded the establishment of that laboratory. In that era Stanford and MIT also were starting labs—I think Berkeley was the first and then Stanford and MIT, some a year or two or three later, also got on the same track. … Berkeley and Stanford and MIT continued for the next several decades as the main institutions with this fabrication capability. And we still have a big lab, fabrication facility over there in the CITRIS Building.

Narration: So, UC Berkeley was the first university in the country to have a microchip fabrication facility. But that’s just the beginning. You have to understand that making microchips, by hand, is hard, really hard, and time-consuming.

Nagel: Well, just to build the circuit alone would probably take a couple of days for a hundred transistors for a kit. Maybe for a twenty transistor circuit a day. So one or two days, something of that order of magnitude. But actually measuring and getting the thing to work right, debugging it, could take a good deal longer than that. That could take weeks.

Narration:  But from the time the microelectronics lab was founded until the end of the 1960s, the number of transistors on the same space on a chip went way up.

Gray:  We were building chips that had on the order of a hundred transistors on them. It’s very difficult to predict by building a physical breadboard or a prototype out of discrete components how a chip like that’s going to behave electrically. You really needed circuit simulation even at that point, a program that would simulate the electrical behavior of a circuit.

Narration: Now if a computer program could do the work of prototyping a circuit, you wouldn’t have to waste time building dud after dud. As a student at the University of Arizona, Paul Gray then learned about the work at Berkeley from his mentor, David Holland. And when Gray went off to work down in the valley at Fairchild Semiconductor, right around the time that Gordon Moore and others split off to found Intel, he recognized the importance of the work that Berkeley researchers were doing.

Gray:  I do remember having a lot of connections with universities in general, Berkeley and Stanford, on various topics in those years. Of course, we were in an industrial park created by Fred Terman, owned by Stanford. We were on their land. But I don’t remember having a sense of a Stanford dominance of the landscape in terms of university engagements. We had a lot of interaction with the Berkeley people because of the computer-aided design activity. Don and his group here at Berkeley were developing that kind of simulator. We needed that. So we got a connection going and we got one of the early versions of SPICE, I think it was called something else at that point, and used that.

Burnett:  CANCER, I think.

Gray:  Yes, correct.

Narration: SPICE? CANCER? These are strange if cool names for software, but this will be explained later. As a result of his reaching out to Berkeley to get a hold of this computer program called CANCER, Paul Gray was invited to Berkeley to teach for a year, and then joined the faculty, where he got the back story on what this software was all about.

First of all, Berkeley engineering was structured for this interaction between computing and electronics. At the time, only Berkeley and MIT had electrical engineering and computer science in the same department. Second, there was a leading light of the Electrical Engineering Department named Donald Pederson, who made computer-aided design a priority.

Gray:  Somewhere in the early sixties, Don had recognized this need for computer simulation. … back in those days you could still try out your design by building what they called a breadboard and you plugged discrete devices in and it    mimicked the chip, how the chip was going to behave. That was pretty ineffective anyway. But once you got bigger than a hundred transistors or so it became completely impossible to do that. Don recognized very early, the way things were going, it was going to be essential. And it was one of those early interdisciplinary things. To build an effective simulator of electronic circuits you have to have someone that knows devices and models the behavior of the transistors electrically. You have to have somebody that understands computer numerical analysis and how you actually solve differential equations on a computer on a large scale. And you have to have circuit people who understand what’s needed.

Narration:  The other piece of the story is the fact that UC Berkeley is an institution of higher education, and students need to be taught in an efficient manner. So Don Pederson asked Ron Rohrer to develop a graduate course where the challenge was to have the students build design software. Here’s Dr. Nagel again:

Nagel: But I would say actually the major emphasis of the simulation programs that were developed at Berkeley were more as teaching tools, so that students could actually get a first-hand—again, Don was an intuitive guy. By running circuits on a computer you could get an intuitive feel for how the circuit would work, something that would take hours and hours and hours if you were to do it in the lab. Because in one night you could build five different variations of some particular circuit, simulate it, and have your results of which variation worked the best. That would be hours and maybe days of laboratory work. By doing it on a computer the entire class—it was no longer just a graduate exercise. Undergraduates could also enjoy this thing.

Narration: But the first graduate class to get this program built was intense, to say the least.

Nagel: And, of course, Ron [Rohrer] came in the first day and said, “Well, for those of you who think this is going to be a course on circuit synthesis, you’re in for a shock because this is going to be a course on circuit simulation and you guys are going to learn all about circuit simulation by writing a circuit simulator. The judge for how well you do will be Don Pederson. If he likes the program that you write, you’ll all get As. If he doesn’t like the program you write, you’ll all fail.” Ron was a very brash guy. So immediately half the class turned white as a sheet and left the room and were gone. [laughter]

Narration: Building on a number of earlier versions, Larry Nagel’s CANCER program was the result of that class, [computer analysis of non-linear circuits, excluding radiation]. Here’s Larry Nagel explaining the significance:

Nagel:  “CANCER: Computer Analysis on Non–Linear Circuits…Excluding Radiation!” Because we were very proud of the fact that we’d developed this program with no money from the government at a time when the government was heavily funding research into radiation effects on circuits…

[background audio of student protests, chanting]

…because we were at the time very much worried about some kind of a nuclear event disabling our missiles. … So that’s how we got the “excluding radiation,” because we weren’t doing radiation. We were Berkeley at the time, right? This was Berkeley. This was not MIT. This was Berkeley. So that’s how CANCER got started.

Narration:  So, you had institutional innovations, a microelectronics lab and a teaching approach that focused on computer-aided circuit design, resulting in this technical innovation. But a crucial innovation was not technical at all; it was legal, and social. Larry Nagel’s SPICE, or Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis, was central to this part of the story, as was UC Berkeley’s status as a public university:

Nagel:  I like to think that SPICE was actually the first open-source project way back before there was such a thing as open-source. But Don Pederson had a very strong belief that anything that was developed at a public institution should be in the public domain. So all of the Berkeley programs were available free of charge, or basically for whatever it cost to load the program onto a tape. So the fact that this program was for free had an enormous impact in a lot of ways. First of all, the program was made available to anybody so it diffused very quickly out to various different universities. And all the students that learned to use SPICE took it with them to industry. So it wasn’t at all long after the original release of SPICE in 1971 that basically every major integrated circuit manufacturer had their own version of SPICE. There was a TI SPICE at Texas Instruments. There was an ADI SPICE at Analogue Devices. After I graduated there was a program called ADVICE, which was developed at Bell Laboratories and used at Bell Laboratories. …

Don’s deal was that you can have the program for free but if you find a bug in it and fix it you have to give it back to us. You have to tell us what the bug is and how you fixed it. There were several generations of students that kept improving SPICE. SPICE improved because you had this entire base of industry feeding information back.

Nagel:  I think for Don it was really a matter of principle. He didn’t do a cost-benefit analysis. He just said, “This is how it has to be. We’re a public institution. We have to make it publicly available.” But if you look in hindsight, the reason that the program became as widely accepted as it did was largely because it was freely available to everyone. Anybody could walk out of Cory Hall with a tape and they had their version of SPICE. That process went on for a long time. I think the last version of SPICE that was released was SPICE III and that was in 1980s. So we’re talking about Berkeley being pretty much a SPICE factory for fifteen, maybe even twenty years.

Narration: Here’s Paul Gray again:

Gray:    Long story short, within ten or fifteen years of that point in time, every circuit design engineer in the world was using some flavor of a derivative of SPICE. It became an industry standard. The industry wouldn’t really exist without that kind of simulation capability. Once you get [the scale] to the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of transistors, it’s the only way you can do design. … So it was a huge innovation and had an incredible impact and also pioneered a great software dissemination model for universities. Many others emulated that public domain model of dissemination. … It has been a big part of the landscape here at Berkeley for many years.

Narration: And so, is the Silicon Valley phenomenon really just about Stanford, chip companies in the Valley, and amateur hobbyists?

Gray:

If you asked the random citizen on the street anywhere in the Bay Area they would probably say that Stanford was way more important than Berkeley. I think “way more important” is not correct. … judging by the number of companies started by faculty or former students, or by the numbers of alumni employed in the valley, one could argue that Berkeley and Stanford are comparable contributors. In terms of innovations that have mattered, there are many.

Narration: So, what does this mean? The development of computer-aided design greatly facilitated experimental research in the design of new microchips. But there is something even more fundamental going on here. First, easy availability of quasi-open source software encouraged commercial development of new chip designs without making it prohibitively expensive to do so through proprietary licensing, copyright, and other legal devices. But Berkeley’s model still allowed companies to make a version of the software they could own.

UC Berkeley deliberately went down a different road, as a direct consequence of its hard-wiring as a public university. The second pivot point here is the separation of design from manufacturing. This software, and all its descendants, allowed companies to focus on the more-profitable end of microchip design, and to outsource the much-more-expensive part of the process, manufacturing, to other companies, and, eventually, to other countries. Now there are consequences to this change, environmental, socioeconomics and otherwise that we can’t cover here. But suffice it to say that in 2015, there were just a handful of major semiconductor fabrication facilities in the United States, with exports totaling $40 billion. Compare that to the fab-less semiconductor design companies, many of which are located in Silicon Valley: total exports $166 billion.

This is just one example of the influence that UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has had on the size, character, and global leadership of Silicon Valley. It was a combination of social, legal, and technical innovation that struck the Valley with lightning force, and in turn accelerated change and growth in the semiconductor industry to this very day. For more about these stories, visit the Oral History Center website at ucblib.link/OHC and search across our entire collection or through the full interviews with Paul Gray and Laurence Nagel.